Dispatch from the Underground

No one ever wants to see that second line appear on their COVID test. I can attest that this is an especially unpleasant experience the day before you’re supposed to get on a transatlantic flight. It’s a situation that has landed me in my parents’ basement-turned-isolation-ward, rather than returning to Belfast as I had hoped to be doing.

The good news is that I’m completely fine so far health-wise (shout-out to the bivalent booster for preparing my immune system – have you gotten yours yet?). The bad news is that I’m just about crawling up the walls from boredom.

I’d like to say that this newfound free time has led to some epiphanies and profound reflections about my hopes for the new year. The truth is that at the moment I don’t have much in the way of profound thoughts, but I do miss Belfast. I miss the late-night conversations and Fleabag watch sessions with my housemates. I miss the feeling of leaving a classroom questioning what I thought I knew. I miss the warm glow of candle-lit pubs filled with the twang of a fiddle playing Irish music. I miss the way everyone in Belfast seems to know each other, which turns introductions into a game of discovering which friends you have in common.

There’s also plenty to look forward to in the semester ahead. I’m excited to start work on my dissertation, dive into my internship at a youth development organization, and travel to new parts of the island. I want to do more hiking when the weather improves, and maybe even try outdoor rock climbing (which still mildly terrifies me, even after plenty of practice on the indoor rock climbing wall).

Before I caught COVID, being back in Boston gave me the chance to catch up with my family and friends. As wonderful as it’s been to revisit my old life here, I’m left feeling even more grateful for my Mitchell year. I spent the last few years working in government on coronavirus response, and I don’t know a single person from that world who isn’t working through their burnout right now. Talking to old friends has helped me to appreciate how much things have changed for me this past year. I don’t know if it’s the change of scenery, the stimulating intellectual atmosphere, or the fact that I now get to just be responsible for my own education for a while instead of feeling responsible for the world – but something about being in Belfast has been restorative for me.

In my underground, makeshift COVID isolation room, the hours and days blur together. As I wait for the two lines on my COVID test to become one, I console myself with the knowledge that soon I’ll be back in Belfast, where each day offers something different and new to discover. I’ll think back to this period of sameness and boredom and use it as a reminder to say yes to as many new experiences as possible.

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